EXCLUSIVE: Talking With Mark Millar About New Spy Thriller ‘King Of Spies’

by Olly MacNamee

This week sees the release of Mark Millar and Matteo Scalera’s King of Spies #2, an action-packed genre-breaking, espionage thriller from Image Comics. Having enjoyed the debut issue I was keen to do my own bit of undercover work and so set out to hunt Mark Millar down to discuss this new series with him. Successfully doing so, I am now free to break the Official Secrets Act and bring you a full transcript of the conversation below as well as an update in King of Spies at Netflix: 

Olly MacNamee: Hiya, Mark. Roland King, our eponymous hero is very much your quintessential old gunfighter back for one last big showdown, isn’t he? Someone in the vein of Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven? But why set this story in the world of the spy genre?

Mark Millar: It’s all about the character for me. I always start by drawing or painting the lead and building the story out from there over a few weeks before I even start writing, my office walls covered in notes. I knew I wanted to do a ‘Twilight of the Gods’ story for the British super-spy archetype after I drew this picture of an old retired spy sitting in his club nursing a brandy and looking regretful. He has everything and nothing. Outside the window London and the world is falling apart and I started to think what motivating incident could have him change course in his final days. His brain tumour seemed perfect.

OM: Roland clearly has some of James Bond in his DNA, but in old age he’s beginning to question his past life and role in maintaining the status quo. Am I right in supposing this is more than just a last hurrah for him and just as much a critique of characters like Bond? What they represent, the system they represent, and their standing in our post-Empirical world?

MM: It’s really more of a critique of the global establishment in general as opposed to one particular figure, but he’s a great through-line for everything that’s gone wrong as the security services obviously instrumental in where we are now. The same families stay rich going back forever and they surround themselves with special agents and soldiers to stay safe. What if one of those agents saw the big picture and turned on them? What if someone who knows where all the bodies are buried feels this massive pang of guilt and decides to take out the people who deserve it? Normal people like us can only watch TV and groan when we see a show-trial or a public inquiry where we know the most powerful figures in the land won’t even be named. He’s our cathartic experience, I guess, in that he plans to see the guilty punished.

OM: The debut issue is oversized. Was that important in the backstory and set-up you wanted to establish?

MM: Yeah, definitely. I never really look at the page numbers when I’m writing, just letting it flow and feel like it has room to breath. I always aim for 22/24 pages, but this came in more as there was so much I wanted to cover from his action movie style past to his present malaise to his call to arms, I guess. The next couple of issues are normal size and then an even bigger fourth issue. I always love to end on a big beast of a final issue. I remember as a kid seeing the extra sized finale to something like Crisis on Infinite Earths and it just always feels like a total treat.

OM: I would be amiss not to mention Matteo Scalera, who’s artwork really help establish the world, the characters and the action. A growing name in comics with his recent work on Batman: White Knight: Harley Quinn, when did you first come across him? And, what makes him the right match for this series?

MM: Oh, Matteo’s incredible. He’s one of the best people I’ve ever worked with. He and I did Space Bandits together too a couple of years back based on a movie I created internally at Netflix. I always like to try a different artist on each project, but I love him so much I’ve asked him twice and it’s an honour to work with someone this great. When I see a file come in from him I stop whatever I’m doing, sit back in my chair and smile. He’s just such a pleasure. Our editors love him too as he’s so fast. He’s never missed a deadline. He can draw faster than I can talk. The first thing I saw of his was Black Science with Rick (Remender), which is just brilliant.

OM: Now, I did read that the book is somewhat influenced by the design team at Netflix. But how much? How much free rein were you able to give Scalera, and did he ever bring you character designs that informed the Netflix design team?

MM: Everything before we sold Millarworld Netflix was a writer and an artist co-creating and co-owning a comic which might later be picked up as a movie. Post-sale the job I was offered was to shepherd these projects and write sequels, but also create new shows and movies in house. Netflix had no plans to get into comics, but they know how much I love them and how much I like to have a book out there so they agreed in my contract to have a bunch of graphic novels out every year where I adapt what I created as a film or a show. Kind of the reverse of what we had before. Magic Order was the first of these. We had a big design bible with all the characters and then we went out looking for the right artist (which was the incredible Olivier Coipel). There’s less designs for something like King of Spies as there’s no costumes as such but our design team worked out Roland, his wife, his son, the bad guys, etc. Matteo took these knowing this is the look of the actors we plan to use, but he makes everything look better. He’s an absolute genius.

OM: The first issue is a blast, but any hints as to what to expect in forthcoming issues?

MM: Roland King’s Kill List is everything you might expect from a man who knows where all the world’s secrets are kept. A former President is assassinated, two British Prime Ministers and a Royal Prince he utterly despises. That should raise some eyebrows.

OM: And, I’d be daft not to at least try and ask for an update on the Netflix adaption? Anything you can share with our readers?

MM: Sure. The writer we brought in to do the scripts is someone i’ve been lauding for years. He’s a writer, director, actor, you name it, so he’s busy and quite a catch. We’ll be able to name him soon, but he’s been working away for over a year now, slightly slowed down by Covid and filming commitments, but you’ll fall out of your chair when you hear who it is. Everybody absolutely loves him and I was on the phone to him for a couple of hours almost weeping when I read the first script. This is in very good hands. I’m sure you can guess who we’re thinking for Sir Roland himself (laughs).

King of Spies #2 is out Wednesday 12th January and you can read my advance review here.

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